Education

Eusebius McKaiser's 13 tips for first-year students

Eusebius McKaiser

Political commentator Eusebius McKaiser gives first-year tertiary students some tips on what to do while there to be successful.

Students need an open attitude at university if they hope to succeed. (M&G)

Are you starting studies at a tertiary institution soon? Here are some tips that may or may not be useful. They are attitudes that helped me, and with hindsight I wish I had an older sibling or parent or mentor who could have told me these. Use them. Don't use them. Or share them with your child/sibling/mentee who is about to enter a tertiary institution: 

  • Join a debate club. Participate actively in extramural activities. Build an all rounder profile and CV.
  • READ for your degree. Don't rely on lecture notes as your primary study or research material for exams or term essays.
  • Do NOT be shy to put up your hand in lectures to ask for clarification or to engage lecturers critically even if others roll their eyes.
  • University and other tertiary institutions can be scary, alien, lonely environments. Do not panic if you struggle in first year. Reach out for help early. 
  • How you finish a degree matters more than how you start it. Don't despair poor first year marks. Aim to improve every year. 
  • Controversial but a deep belief I hold: choose subjects that turn you on. Don't try guess what's employability maximising.
  • Being nerdish is cool. Don't laugh with peers who say: "50% is a pass. 51% means you neglected friends". No no no.
  • I got my degrees with distinction. Brag about excellence. Don't only celebrate winning drinking competitions (though do brag about that too if you're at Rhodes)
  • Take risks, have fun and experiment. Kiss a boy, rugby lad. Walk barefoot, head girl. 
  • Tertiary institutional experiences are about more than academia: they are spaces where you can question your identity, beliefs, values. But "free at last" doesn't mean implode. Still, enjoy critical self-examination. 
  • Even distinctions don't guarantee employment. Build relationships widely. They are crucial after graduation. Boring academics call it "social capital". Develop plenty of it. 
  • Don't be afraid of failure. It's how you respond that matters; not having a student life devoid of anxiety, self-doubt, set-backs. The world remembers the output, not the back story.
  • It's one of the most beautiful and privileged times of your life – enjoy it.

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